Rising to the top

UND MPA student brings home public policy prize for world food security simulation, places internationally

Nick Jensen

UND Master of Public Administration student Nick Jensen recently went to New York City for an international policy contest for which he was paired with three Ivy League students. His team took first place and he was named MVP. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

UND students can hold their own – and win – against students from around the nation and the world.

“Once we started, I knew I could compete at this level,” said Nick Jensen. “I knew I had something to bring to the table.”

The Master of Public Administration student’s team took first place at the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) Student Simulation Competition at Columbia University in New York City. His team also took runner-up in the world competition where they competed against seven other universities across the globe. His subgroup of four, which he led, took MVP.

“As my wife joked, we had 12 hours to solve world hunger,” said Jensen, who grew up in Cavalier and Grand Forks, N.D.

Global level

The students were chosen from universities across the globe to compete in a one-day immersive computer simulation that challenged them to achieve food security, improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030.

“As a farm kid from North Dakota, I was a bit of an outlier in New York City,” Jensen said about his experience, adding that students on his team came from Harvard, Carnegie Mellon University, Princeton and Yale. “By lunch, I knew I was on par with anyone. I thought, ‘I can play with these guys, and I can win at this level.’ That was because of my education at UND.”

“Nick’s North Dakota roots helped him to shine and to compete against Ivy League schools,” said Dana Harsell, associate professor of political science and public administration and director of the MPA program.

“He knows agricultural policy, food security, he understands public policy, legislative and executive processes,” Harsell said. And, he added, Jensen’s steady, consistent approach and ability to look at the big picture led to his success and was one of the reasons he was chosen to represent UND.

At the competition, teams of 16 students developed policies to impact food security around the world. Those choices were put into a simulator that mimicked 20 years’ worth of real-world scenarios, including floods, disasters, droughts, and more. They were further divided into groups of four, and Jensen was elected to lead his group, which focused on Southeast Asia.

“We looked at three issues,” Jensen said. “Are nations growing enough food? Is it affordable? Is it nutritious?”

“I was lucky that my professors and classes gave me insights and I understood ag policy,” said Jensen. “I know what it’s like to grow food, to have policies that are sustainable for family farmers.”

Jensen used information from a political science class to develop a computer model to track indicators and analyze impacts of different decisions. That allowed his team to model different policy decisions and their consequences.

“Knowing how to produce a computer model gave us a big leg up on the competition,” Jensen said. They even shared the program he developed with other teams.

Nick Jensen

UND’s Nick Jensen (second from right) and his Ivy school teammates at the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration Student Simulation Competition at Columbia University in New York City. Photo courtesy of Nick Jensen.

Representing UND

This is the third time UND has taken part in the NASPAA competition. Harsell said the NASPAA makes information from the contest available to universities, and said UND will look at integrating the information into the classroom.

“Our students are well-equipped to compete at the global level,” said Harsell. “They have a good understanding of public policy, statistics, executive implementation, and policy analysis.”

Jensen agreed.

“I was proud to represent UND,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to have the professors and classes that gave me the ability to do research and analytics. I credit North Dakota values and the UND MPA program.”